The American Federation of Television and Radio Artists and the American Federation of Musicians joined forces last week to demand that the Federal Communications Commission reform local-broadcasting regulation.
"Promoting localism means ensuring that local communities can rely upon their local television and radio stations to deliver local news, which includes, among other things, local political coverage, local weather, and local community affairs," the two unions said in their 29-page commentary to the FCC on Nov. 1. "Promoting localism also requires that broadcast stations reflect and create opportunities for local artists and other forms of local self-expression."
However, the unions argued, "The market forces created by the current, overwhelmingly consolidated broadcast media industry simply fail to provide the necessary incentives to promote these aspects of localism. Indeed, the market forces driving the broadcast industry today instead promote the opposite—centralized, homogenized, and uniform programming conceptualized and operated without the input or participation of individuals who live in the local communities to be served."
The problems resulting from this centralized approach include:
• "The domination of centralized programming masquerading as local programming through insidious group owner innovations such as radio 'voice-tracking,' so-called television 'central casting,' and the imposition of national or regional 'playlists';
• "The abdication by broadcast stations of their historic role in discovering and promoting local talent; and
• "The burgeoning of destructive 'pay for play' business practices that are shutting local artists out of airplay, depriving audiences of emerging local artists, and ultimately squelching innovation in American music."
AFTRA and the AFM called upon the commission to respond in five ways, including adopting:
1. "Rules to specifically require stations to provide programming responsive to the needs of the particular communities where the stations are located."
2. "Rules that specifically address and prohibit the new destructive payola practices that control the radio and music industries today, and improve its existing procedures for enforcing existing payola and sponsorship identification rules."
3. "A meaningful and effective license renewal process through which the commission, with input by members of the local community, systematically evaluates the manner in which a station has served the public interest."
As for their grave concern for local artists, the two unions told the FCC, "It is the experience of sound-recording artists nationwide that the absence of individual station personnel accountable to local communities is one of the major obstacles to getting records played in their local communities and has resulted in a loss of community-responsive music radio programming."
The unions also pointed out that the FCC has received substantial evidence of how market forces in the new broadcast economy have led local music stations to abandon their roles of introducing and promoting local new talent and fostering diversity in musical styles and culture.
The unions also noted that sound-recording artists report that they are unable to have a record played on local stations unless they contact—and pay—a so-called "independent promoter" to promote their records to specific stations.